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The Magic of Enchantment

New York
The Dicapo Opera Theatre
12/08/2011 -  and December 10, 16, 18, 2011
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Iolanta, opus 69
Corinne Winters (Iolanta), Alex Richardson (Count Vaudémont), Seth Mease Carico (King René), Gustavo Feulien (Robert), Brandon Coleman (Ibn-Hakia), Rachel Selan (Marta), Roza Tulyaganova (Brigitta), Donna Breitzer (Laura), Ryan Allen (Bertrand), Jonathan Winell (Almeric)
Chorus and Orchestra of the DiCapo Opera, Pacien Mazzagatti (Conductor)
Michael Capasso (Stage Director), Francine Harman (Assistant Director), John Farrell (Set Design), Susan Roth (Lighting Design)

(© James Martindale)

The Dicapo Opera, now in its thirtieth anniversary season, has long described itself as New York’s third opera company. Now, with the almost certain demise of the New York City Opera, this small and feisty company has come up one notch to second. They are presenting five works this season, including a new production of Iolanta, the first staging in New York since the company presented the opera to delighted audiences in 1997. This seldom-heard one act gem is a simple fairy tale about a French princess whose blindness is cured – albeit indirectly – by the tenor who loves her. Iolanta, Tchaikovsky’s last opera, was conceived as a companion piece for The Nutcracker. It was first performed in 1892, just a year before his death.

After a bit of a rocky start, the orchestra under Maestro Pacien Mazzagatti sounded splendid, particularly so the thinly textured, almost ethereal playing of the woodwinds and strings. Throughout the performance, there was stunning and often deeply moving mirroring of the voices by the orchestra. Indeed, the opera is full of ravishing melodies. There is great poignancy in the princess’s situation and in her father’s ultimately fruitless efforts to keep the truth from her. And, of course, an opera about hiding the truth must have had great psychological resonance for Tchaikovsky whose struggles with his repressed homosexuality exacted such a terrible emotional price.

The singers were splendid. Corinne Winters, a graduate of the Academy of Vocal Arts, sang Iolanta with a lovely and vulnerable stage presence and a rich, luminous voice of limpid beauty. Alex Richardson, as Vandémont, sang with an ardent sweetness. Bass baritone Seth Mease Carico as King René was touching as the loving father trying – and failing – to protect his daughter from knowledge of her blindness. He has a rich and resonant voice and fine acting ability. Gustavo Feulien as Robert was simply superb. His part was small but his beautiful, rich, dark baritone won over the audience as did his charismatic stage presence. Brandon Coleman, Rachel Selan and Ryan Allen also turned in excellent performances, as did the chorus.

The radically simple set was imaginatively designed and beautifully lit. Particularly stunning was the transformation of the stage to a bright yellow color as Iolanta saw the world and her lover’s face for the first time.

Rumor has it that Iolanta is coming to the Met in a couple of seasons with Anna Netrebko as the blind princess – after her triumph in the role in Baden-Baden, Salzburg, and Saint Petersburg. I certainly hope that the rumor is true. If so, it will be unmissable.

Arlene Judith Klotzko



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